Pronouns in the Workplace
CHARLESTON, S.C. - Have you ever been in a meeting where a co-worker introduced themselves with their name and pronouns? Have you ever received an email at work that featured something like (he/him) or (they, them, theirs) in the signature? The practice of sharing pronouns is becoming increasingly common in the workplace, and it is important to stay informed about why people share their pronouns, and how to go about using your pronouns in the workplace.
First off, let’s answer a very basic question – what are pronouns? If we take a look at the Merriam-Webster definition, a pronoun is “a word…used instead of a noun.” Thinking back to our basic grammar lessons, this just means that a pronoun is a stand-in for the name of a person, place, or thing. Common pronouns include she, he, them, we, or it. Whether you consciously think about it or not, you likely have a set of pronouns you go by in your day-to-day life. For example, when you step out of a meeting, your co-workers may say “She went to make copies,” or “He left to make a phone call.”
Reading this definition, it may seem obvious how pronouns work. Why would anybody need to explicitly share their pronouns? We always know which pronouns someone uses based on how they look, right? The answer to this, in fact, is no. The way someone dresses does not indicate which pronouns they use. Even if you see someone presenting in a more feminine way, they may not necessarily be referred to with she/her pronouns. The same goes for someone presenting in a more masculine or gender-neutral way.
If we are not able to tell pronouns from appearance, how do we know which pronouns someone uses? It can be as simple as asking privately. Sometimes pronouns might look differently from how you expect. For example, I use two sets of pronouns, she/her and they/them. For me, this means I prefer to be referred to with these pronouns interchangeably. In a conversation, that might look like this: “She went out to pick up more coffee. They’ll be back soon.” Other people may want to be referred to differently or may use a set of pronouns you have never seen before, like xe/xem or e/eir.
It is okay if you are not sure what this looks like at first – we are all always learning! Practice with Pronouns is a great tool online that can help you explore what using a new set of pronouns might look like. American University provides a simple guide to pronouns that can be useful as you get started. I think their guidance on how to handle any mistakes you might make is especially helpful. The other person may feel upset or disrespected, and you may feel embarrassed, but the best way to move forward is to “apologize, correct it, and move on.”
Keep in mind that not everyone may be comfortable sharing their pronouns. Sometimes the pronouns someone chooses to use change over time, or someone may use different pronouns at work versus at home. This means sharing your own pronouns can be a proactive and inclusive step to make someone more comfortable sharing their own pronouns as well. If you are comfortable, you can do this by adding your pronouns in your email signature at work or wearing a name badge that lists your pronouns.
With a little bit of practice and self-patience, you will be ready to take on the next steps in your future career. If you would like more information about how to apply for jobs online, assistance in finding resources, tips on how to get the job-hunting process started or more, please reach out to us at CCPL by email, chat, or text. Remember, you are not alone.